The Grinch Stole Christmas 'Ele' and Igue Festival From Benin People

I spoke with my younger brother and learned that today's English culture had eroded many of the traditions I grew up within December in Edo State, Nigeria.

As a child, I looked forward to Christmas - the smell of my mommy's stew, the new Christmas clothes or the old one refitted, sometimes, the Michael Jackson outfit in Edo attire (trouser almost up to the knee and who cares?)

The most exciting part of Christmas was the random visit (Ele) to strangers. The rice entertainment, the coca-cola that could probably cause you dysentery later and most of all, the sharing of the money.

Godwin Obaseki kneeling down before Oba Ewuare II on Igue Day
Godwin Obaseki kneeling down before Oba Ewuare II on Igue Day

The pain of walking miles and the signature of pulling your new shoes due to severe pain and then walking home barefoot, and the sharing of the proceeds would ease the pains.

Edo State is known for its rich culture, and as kids, my family and I looked forward to Igue Festival.

According to Wikipedia, "The Igue Festival was initiated in the 14th century during the reign of Oba Ewuare I, who reigned in Benin between years 1440 and 1473. Following Oba Ewuare I's experience whilst fighting as a prince for the Benin throne, he was known as the Prince Ogun, the son of Oba Ohen as at then."

As years went by, other festivals were added to the Igue festival and successors kept and held tenaciously to the celebration.

On Igue day, as early as 5 pm, my sleepless family and I would be in Uwelu forest looking for Ewere leaves - the leaf signified joyfulness, gaiety, revel, an embodiment of the Igue Festival.

Right from the forest, we sing, dance, jubilate in loudness as we knocked on every door, acting as their morning alarms. The families open their doors, join us in the joyfulness as we stick a piece of the leaf on their forehead.

Igue Items
Igue Items

Before moving to the next house, we are greeted with some notes (money) as a sign of appreciation, which would seal our yearly adventure later.

There was no need for crackers, as our belief in the culture motivates our jubilations. We danced until we could barely move, and as the day dawned, everyone returned to their respective home to prepare for the evening ritual.

In some homes, the night vigil was associated with a burning fire outside the house. In the morning, the children would take firewood, chanting, "Ubi rie, we re rie" to drive away evil (Ubi-evils), demons, and shrewdness in society.

This was done before proceeding to gather the Ewere Leaves, the dance back home, the claps, the chorus, brought the dead to life.

On the evening of the Igue, the entire family is gathered as innocent chicken, coconut, kola nut, and other assorted drinks are placed in the middle.

Edo people believed in giving thanks to your "head" for making the right decision, guiding you through the arduous months and praying to your head for a better future.

The coconut is broken, and the coconut water is sipped by the entire family, a ritual that brought the family together and built the future that the coming months would also be a blessing.

The morning is preceded with pounded yam, traditional food preparation, in some homes, with antelope and goat meat, to mark the occasions.

In Benin City, Ewere leaves are beautifully presented to Omo N' Oba N' Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba of Benin to mark the ceremony.

In Towns and villages, the bouquets are given to Enigie and community heads while the storekeepers open the granary with the song "Odibo ra kie aza"

New Year wasn't different. As a child, we pray to have two kinds of clothes, one for Christmas Ele and the other for New Year Ele.

Some children who couldn't afford it would wear their last New Year clothes for Christmas "Ele" while their family managed to get them new clothes for the new year.

Where did all these go? My brother told me the celebration for kids in today's Edo is at fast food joints. The Grinch (foreign culture) had stolen the exciting childhood experience, and it is our parents' fault.

It is left for the current Oba of Benin to revive the culture his father had watered over the years. It is left for him to spread the need for Edo people to revisit the values that distinguished us from others.

The street masquerades would come around as children scampered for safety. In Benin, we believed that the masquerade could make our children brave by pushing the child in between their legs to gloriously emerge on their behind. This mark the end of fear and the beginning of braveness for the kids.

I would cry and hide, pee in my pants as I was very petrified of the masquerades but over the years, I embraced them and ran towards them. In my time, I never heard of the North Pole and nor did I know Chris Kringle, aka Santa Clause existence.

The Oba Ewere II has a responsibility to revive the dead culture and parents must allow the General Alpha have the experiences they had.

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